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Hawks look for signature win against Michigan State

BY IAN MARTIN | FEBRUARY 02, 2011 7:10 AM

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Much like Punxsutawney Phil, the Iowa basketball team will try to answer a major question this Groundhog Day.

Will they or won’t they finally pull off a major conference win?

While America’s favorite marmot forecaster predicts whether the weather will remain as rubbish as it’s been, the Hawkeyes (8-13, 1-8) welcome Michigan State in the team’s return to Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Iowa is seeking a win over a notable opponent for the first time this season.

The Spartans (13-8, 5-4) are having a relatively “down” season by their standards, but with an RPI of 35, beating them would still be a major win for Fran McCaffery and the young Hawkeyes.

Iowa is frustrated and in need of a spark. For one, the head coach thinks that the team has yet to put together a complete game since the squad’s only Big Ten victory this season — Indiana on Jan. 23.

The Hawkeyes put together good stretches against Penn State and Michigan, but eventually lost both games by 14.

“I don’t feel like we played particularly well in either one,” Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery said in the Big Ten coaches’ teleconference.

He said both games seemed to have good first halves for his side before a run killed them in the second. But players on the team didn’t want to credit opponents with winning games, instead saying that the Hawkeyes seemed to lose them.

“We’ve got to stop beating ourselves,” freshman Melsahn Basabe said in a radio interview after the Michigan loss. “I’ve yet to be in any game where I’m like ‘Wow, those guys really beat us.’ ”

It would appear that if Iowa wanted to put it together, tonight’s game could be the right mixture. Michigan State has been sliding, losers of its last three road games. And each of the Spartan’s last three wins have been at home and in overtime, including a narrow 84-83 escape against Indiana on Sunday.

The Spartans’ head coach seemed to have an opposite demeanor from that of McCaffery, praising his team’s resilience through tough times.

“No question we’ve been knocked on our heels in the past week,” Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo said in the same Big Ten teleconference. “But we’ve found a way to win, and that’s what you have to do in this league.”

Tonight’s home crowd will likely be one of the best of the season — the game is free for UI students. And last, and certainly least, the Hawkeyes hold a five-game winning streak on Groundhog Day.

But it will be tough to call this one a trap game for Michigan State, even for a team coming off an emotional win. Izzo said that because Iowa plays especially well at home, his squad expects a tough game from the Hawkeyes.

“If we can get through the snow,” he said, “we’re going to have a tough time when we get there.”


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